One Month In, What I’ve Learned

I’ve been at my first appointment for just over one month now. In that time I have preached more in 4 weeks than I did in the previous year, attended my first SPRC meeting, and fill 2 book shelves to capacity.

Many people told me the first month, well the first year really, of a first appointment would be intense, and it has been. From meeting what seems like 1000 people in 4 weeks and learning a new office culture to trying to take as much in as possible and learned where the bathrooms are, it has been exhausting. I was told by a mentor to enjoy the first few months, “take it all in”, he said.

Upon reflection, there’s been a lot I’ve learned in the past month.

Weekly Preaching Is No Joke

via GIPHY

I jokingly say I’ve preached more in the last month than I did in the previous year, but it’s true. To be fair however, I am in an entirely new role (youth ministers typically don’t preach often). I have found in the last month that the preparation, crafting, and delivering of a sermon is hard work. Now I’m not breaking a sweat doing it but my brain does hurt, and it’s work that I’m doing in isolation.

Talbot Davis calls it “social solitude.”

My own process of preparation is wholly wrapped in solitude. I study, I jot, I brainstorm, I fret, I pray, I get excited, I become depressed, I write . . . all on my own. At my desk in the office or at my dining room table at my home. The only input I get during that process is some occasional wordsmithing advice I receive from trusted friends.

I’ve found my weekly rhythm: read on Monday and Tuesday, outline and draft Wednesday, and finalize Thursday. This is ideal and I have found early on that adjustments will need to be made but the more prep work can do ahead of time, the better off I will be (I think).

The Power of Community

While preparing for sermons seems isolating, my job as a pastor is very social. I am part of a larger community. We see over and over again how large groups of people can do big things when they trust in Christ. This has been evident in my first month. From the things you’d expect like summer mission trips to monthly assistance programs, I get to be part of a community where the power of many is harnessed.

Building community for the sake of having community is not enough. Churches try, often with little results to build up community. New initiatives are developed and rolled out, usually when a new, young preacher comes to town…. which leads me to the next thing I’ve learned:

Shut Up

“Teer, shut up.”

via GIPHY

I’ve said this to myself a few times now. Whether in a meeting or when meeting with a church member, the best thing I can do right now is to just listen. Not listening for the sake of patronizing someone but listening to learn. I need to learn the stories of this community. I need to learn what they’ve tried and what haven’t. I need to learn what’s worked and what’s fallen flat. I cannot do that if I an trying to interject my opinion, however great my ego tells me that idea is.

The Lewis Center for Church Leadership offers some ideas on asking, which sounds more academic than ‘shut up!’

While the techniques and strategies of effective asking are important, at the end of the day they must be grounded in gratitude, clarity of purpose, and sincerity.

  1. Ask Boldly
  2. Keep a Positive Frame of Mind
  3. Capitalize on the Power of Personal Invitations
  4. Have a Clear Response Mechanism
  5. Honor People Who Say No
  6. Aim High
  7. Cast a Wide Net
  8. Mix it Up
  9. Say Thank You
  10. Stay Grounded

Don’t Be Scared

You are going to screw-up, put your foot in your mouth, and embarrass yourself, and that is OK. In the first month I’ve ignored the order of worship, forgotten the names of church leaders, and mispronounced a few of those Bible words I’m ‘supposed’ to know. It’s OK.

via GIPHY

For the most part, the screw-ups so far have not burned down the building or caused someone to leave the church (I still have time for those). My take away from the screw-ups is to not be afraid. Not only am I learning but my congregation knows that. They are teaching me just as much as I am them. That’s part of the living in community thing. I am a young pastor and they know that. So I embrace the mishaps as opportunities to experience grace.

There will come a time when the screw-ups will lose their charm but for now I’m going to embrace them.

What have you learned in your first month of a new appointment (or your first appointment)?